Choosing the right leadership when you're a female founder (and when to let go)

Choosing the right leadership when you’re a female founder (and when to let go)

As a business owner, how do you choose the right leadership for your baby?  How do you let go? Valeria and Gemma, the co-founders and CEOs of WORK180, share their experience. 

There comes a time when every founder has to let go of their startup (aka, their baby) in order for it to grow and evolve. We (Gemma and Valeria) started WORK180 five years ago after personally experiencing significant discrimination in the technology industry.

Gemma’s story involved a lot of overt sexism (much of it from male clients), while Valeria’s struggle lay more in the family field: a single mum to a son with a disability, she was forced to navigate jobs with very little support.

It got to a point where we were both so tired of the status quo that we decided to start a
company that would directly change the experiences for women within the workplace.
It’s taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get us to this point. Selling apartments, moving back into shared houses in our late 20s and forgoing what seems like thousands of hours of sleep, we’ve seen WORK180 grow from strength to strength as our values permeate through to our clients: be kind and understanding to your workers, and you’ll be rewarded with the best talent out there.

Because our life experiences are so intrinsically tied to the values embedded within the
company, letting go of some of the leadership and passing the baton has not always been easy. Perhaps more than other firms, we’ve been very conscious of hiring the right people at every stage. So it stands to reason that when it came to getting the right leadership on board, we took the job very, very seriously.

Our first call was to hire a Chief Operating Officer, whose role is to take care of internal matters as we look to grow WORK180 in other markets. A stroke of luck led us to Catherine (Katie) Lio, whose credentials include being on the boards of the men’s and women’s Essendon football club, as well as nearly a decade working in Telstra as a product manager (during which time she introduced Apple music to Australia).
Next, we decided to invest in marketing, an important step to helping us grow in markets outside Australia. We know that the right CMO can build a world-class marketing team that not only helps companies acquire more customers at less cost but also enhances the perception and brand value of the company in ways that you’d never even consider.

Alex Lasry joined us in this role. Alex’s experience at SEEK (as well as his own battles with work discrimination as a gay man) makes him uniquely placed to help us reach the aim of positively impacting 11 million employees through policy and benefit changes, and enabling 70,000 women to have chosen their employer — vetted by us — through our jobs platform.

In order for a startup to grow, its founders need to listen and be willing to be challenged by their team. We welcome respectful debate and questioning of our decisions; that is the only way to ensure all bases are covered and that we haven’t missed anything.
We have already seen changes: as we watch things move forward, regardless of our input (or how we would have managed it ourselves) we understand the importance of letting go, or entrusting our C-suites to do the right thing.

And it feels good. We can’t do everything ourselves — we can’t just be around 24/7 as well as launching into the UK. Having several leaders on rotation, going to the UK for around a month at a time means that everyone can have a sense of stability and balance at home, while also experiencing what it’s like to help a newer market grow.
As most founders, we’re constantly learning on the job and having the support of an
experienced leadership team is taking us to the next level.

We’re moving very quickly, and it’s important that our leaders — who have mainly come from large corporates — are comfortable with the pace of our work culture and with making decisions much quicker than they are used to. We want to make a huge impact on the world, and we can’t do that with just the two of us.


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